Only criminals involved in petty offences released: PMO

Nineteen non-combatant Taliban prisoners belonging to the Mehsud tribe have been released since March 21, according to the Interior Ministry on Thursday.

Three persons were released on March 21, five more two days later and 11 on March 28. These people were arrested on suspicion or based on intelligence reports, the Interior Ministry spokesperson said.

The release of non-combatant prisoners has been a demand of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and was discussed when the two peace committees met recently in Orakzai. The two former heads of the TTP Baitullah and Hakimullah were from the Mehsud tribe.

After Hakimullah’s death, the leadership has passed on to Mullah Fazlullah from the Yousafzai tribe.

While the Ministry has said this, the Prime Minister’s Office issued a statement rebutting reports from an international news agency about the release of Taliban prisoners. It was clarified that there has been no authorisation given from the Prime Minister in this regard and the report was incorrect.

The release of some prisoners involved in petty crimes by the political administration has been wrongly construed as the release of Taliban prisoners, the statement said.

The future of the peace dialogue with the TTP hinges on a number of issues and both the government-appointed committee and the TTP-nominated members favoured the release of some non-combatant prisoners as a measure of confidence building.

The month-long ceasefire announced by the TTP on March 1 has expired and there are conflicting reports quoting the TTP and its factions who seem to differ on extending it.

Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan told the media that he was meeting the government-appointed committee soon and a joint meeting of both committees was likely in a couple of days. The TTP is also demanding a peace zone to facilitate the dialogue process and an extension of the ceasefire.

The talks seemed to hinge on the issue of ceasefire and within the TTP too there seems to be some discord. The government continues to maintain that there is progress in the talks. The two panels are scheduled to meet the Taliban shura once again.